The European Commission's decision to start a dialogue with Polish authorities on the rule of law and media independence in Poland was hotly debated in plenary on Tuesday, in the presence of Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło. While some political group leaders criticised her government for disregarding democratic checks and balances, others agreed with Ms Szydło’s contention that it had not breached the rule of law in Poland.
President Martin Schulz opened the discussion by saying that "the rule of law, the question of checks and balances, is not a question of procedure but one that is central to our European democracy and society."
Bert Koenders, Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs (EU Council Presidency) said: "The EU is more than a common market, it's a Union built on common values – the rule of law, democracy and fundamental rights. But these cannot be taken for granted, we have learned our lesson the hard way", he added, calling for an open discussion to protect them in times of change. View the full intervention
First Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans, explained "why the Commission has decided to assess the recent developments in Poland", and how it hopes "to move forward in a constructive and facts-based dialogue with Poland, to prevent the emergence of a systemic threat to the rule of law". View the full statement
Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło insisted that the rule of law has not been breached in Poland. "Polish citizens have chosen our programme in a democratic election and we are implementing it, respecting our Constitution and the European Treaties". (...) "The dispute over a Constitutional Court in Poland is a political, not a legal one and as such it is an internal Polish matter, but I'm ready to talk to the opposition", she added. View the full statement: part 1 and part 2
Esteban González Pons (EPP, Spain) stated that the worst authoritarianism always “comes from inside” and warned that “attacking the judicial power and controlling mass media could be a first step towards destroying democracy”. He underlined that “our only aim is to clarify whether European values are at risk” and stressed that “no-one wants a preventive sentence for Poland”. View the full statement
Gianni Pittella (S&D, Italy) observed that the independence of the courts and of the media were an absolute prerequisite for EU democracy. He said that his group was worried about recent developments in Polish governance being not in line with the country's history and its battles against dictatorship. View the full statement
Syed Kamall (ECR, UK) said that "having spoken with Polish MEPs, it's obvious that the Polish authorities do not intend to undermine media pluralism" and asked why the Commission and the MEPs had not complained about irregularities in the previous government's appointments to the Constitutional court. View the full statement
Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE, BE) told Ms Szydło "Your party won the elections and a strong mandate; it is your right to reshape the media landscape and reform the civil service. But not if you use or abuse this huge majority to dismantle checks and balances in your country. This contradicts the constitution and was not announced in your party manifesto". View the full statement
Gabriele Zimmer (GUE/NGL, Germany) (GUE/NGL, DE) said "Neoliberal reforms, already a precondition for EU membership, have not brought wealth for all (…). Therefore many people in Poland hold the Union responsible for social divisions in society." View the full statement
"Beyond worries about the rule of law in Poland, we worry about the EU as a whole", said Rebecca Harms (Greens/EFA, DE), adding that a governing majority should not dictate its decisions without seeking a proper debate with the opposition. View the full statement
"Polish affairs should be solved in Poland and by Poles", said Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz (EFDD, Poland)."This debate is unnecessary and unfounded, but it has one advantage: it will make Euroscepticism grow", he added. View the full statement
Michal Marusik (ENF, Poland) said that criticism of Poland is in fact a sign that it is protecting Polish interests and that the ongoing debate constituted unwarranted EU interference in Poland's internal affairs. View the full statement
Procedure: Council and Commission statements followed by debate
Vote: February I
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